This Saturday and Sunday, The Verdi Chorus will be culminating their 39th season with their Fall Concert, “A Verdi Puccini Fest” in Santa Monica.
“This program includes some of the most exciting moments from two of the greatest operatic composers who ever lived,” said Music Director and Founding Artistic Director Anne Marie Ketchum, conductor of the Verdi Chorus since its beginning in 1983. Ketchum continued in a press release, “The program I’ve created for this concert is a smorgasbord of the many operas from these two prolific composers, and it has been such great fun to choose from the many dramatic works they both offer.”
One of the chorus members, Dr. Franklin Strauss, spoke with the Journal about the importance that music has played in his life, as a doctor and as a part of the Los Angeles Jewish Community. Strauss retired eight years ago after about 45 years practicing nephrology out of Cedar Sinai Medical Center with a teaching affiliation with UCLA Medical School. But even in retirement from medicine, Strauss is still quite active in performing his other love: opera.
“I retired from medicine in about 2014, and so I’m now living the life, living the dream as the young folks say,” Strauss told the Journal.
Strauss first got into opera while in college at Columbia University in New York. It was the 1950s, and he was working a part-time mail-sorting and office assistant job for a finance professional out of his apartment on Park Avenue. While there, Strauss’s employer would be playing opera records from his floor-to-ceiling collection. Strauss got hooked.
Back at school, Strauss met his wife, a violinist and then a fellow member of the Columbia University Orchestra.
They married and moved from New York to California where their family became members of University Synagogue in Los Angeles.
“And as the years went by, the area of music that I really loved the most was the opera that started College years,” Strauss said. “And so opera was always a very, very important part of my life.”
As members of University Synagogue, they took an interest in possibly joining the volunteer chorus.
“Since we’re both musicians—amateur musicians—even though neither one of us had any singing training in our background, we thought we would volunteer for the chorus and see how that went,” Strauss said. “And of course it was a lot of fun. It was very, very rewarding learning music, learning how to further our Hebrew education somewhat, and then incorporating that as part of a family activity, a family Jewish activity. So I felt very comfortable doing that. We were very warmly welcomed.”
Strauss was still practicing medicine at Cedars Sinai and was also doing clinical investigations, achieving the top faculty rank as Clinical Professor of Medicine at UCLA Medical School. But he still found time to sing in Shabbat services and the High Holidays. The two of them also were in the Palisade Symphony for several years. And sometimes they’d put together a string quartet and do concerts in their living room.
He credits University Synagogue Cantor Jay Frailich for feeding his thirst for music. Cantor Frailich retired after 40 years in 2014.
“And we were very much taken by the cantor at that time, who was a wonderful musician and a wonderful human being, of course, who was very interested in not doing the same old service every Friday or Saturday,” Strauss said. “And he wanted to change things up a little bit. He utilized more modern Jewish composers rather than just the standard old things that we used to hear for decades and decades. And so it really was a wonderful opportunity to work with a musician and a really good synagogue chorus. And it also helped us to involve ourselves more in the activities of the synagogue and in our Jewish life.”
And then one day in 2000, another member of the choir told Strauss about the Verdi Chorus and invited him to go to one of their concerts.
“That was a key event in my life because I loved opera all these years, and here I am going to a performance of a community chorus that is singing my favorite type of music,” Strauss said. “When I went to this concert I heard this community chorus with a wonderful music director and wonderful professional soloists. I said, ‘How do I sign up? Where do I audition?’ I auditioned a month later and boom!”
Strauss would transfer from the synagogue to the Verdi Chorus, where he has been ever since.
“The Verdi Chorus Is probably unique in our part of the United States, if not certainly in California or a wider geographical area. We are trying to find other choruses that do what we do. We’re the only chorus that is a community as opposed to a professional chorus that just sings the music of opera. All the other choruses—and there are many choruses in Los Angeles, the many courses everywhere—but they all sing all kinds of different music. They may even include an operatic chorus every now and then. But there’s no chorus that just focuses on the music of the opera chorus.”
The concerts on November 12 and 13 will feature selections from four Verdi operas – “I Lombardi,” “Don Carlo,” “Rigoletto,” and “La Traviata.” It will also feature sequences from Puccini’s “Turandot, “La Bohème,” “Suor Angelica,” “Tosca,” “La Fanciulla del West” and “La rondine.”
Strauss is not only on the board of the Verdi Chorus, but his wife is also a member, having joined about eight or nine years ago.
“It’s a wonderful thing for us to do as individuals, it’s also a wonderful thing for us to do as a married couple,” Strauss said. “It’s a wonderful anti-aging remedy. What it does for me is it takes me completely outta my normal day to day life experience, and I go to a different planet while I’m making music. I literally do. It’s a different personal experience, you know, forget about all the stuff that’s going on, Family, job, work, pressure, money, cars, everything. Just forget about that stuff. You go to someplace completely different and you just completely open up into a different realm of being for me, me. So it’s a wonderful, I won’t say escape, but it’s a wonderful way to put things aside and get creative and have a form of enjoyment unlike any other.”
The Verdi Chorus Fall 2022 Concert “A Verdi Puccini Fest” will take place at the First Presbyterian Church in Santa Monica, 1220 2nd Street, Santa Monica, CA 90401 on Saturday, November 12 at 7:30 pm; Sunday, November 13 at 4:00 pm. For tickets, visit www.verdichorus.org
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